István Ujhelyi voted MEP of the year for second time

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mepawFor the second time in five years, MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi is a winner of the MEP Awards – the award was handed over to him in a spectacular ceremony in Brussels on Wednesday evening. The prestigious award is announced and presented every year by The Parliament Magazine, a bi-weekly Brussels-based magazine on EU politics, and the last event was cancelled only due to the covid pandemic.
Politicians compete in several categories, and can be nominated by individuals, MEPs, advocacy groups and NGOs. From the thousands of nominations received, an independent, professional jury makes a shortlist of four MEPs in each category, based mainly on who and how many people or organizations nominated them and the real reasons and work that supports their nomination. István Ujhelyi has been short-listed to be a finalist for the third time this year; in 2017, he also won the prestigious award when he was voted best in the “transport” category. This year, the MSZP MEP was voted the most effective and successful European politician in the “Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism” category, mainly in recognition of his pioneering work to implement and develop the free InterRail ticket scheme and his work as Vice-Chair of the TRAN Committee responsible for the tourism sector, which was the hardest hit by the covid pandemic.
Following the announcement, István Ujhelyi said that it was a great honour for him to have receieved the MEP Award for the second time, especially as he had received numerous nominations not only in the tourism category but also in the health category, including from the Standing Committee of European Doctors. “Just to be one of the final four for the third time meant a lot to me; I must admit that I did not expect to be awarded this prestigious prize again, as a double is quite rare. I am proud to have been nominated by many civil and professional organizations and European citizens, which is the most important confirmation of the effectiveness of my work in Brussels. This is a clear recognition in Brussels that I have succeeded in presenting a number of pioneering programmes representing the interests of Hungarian people, such as the European Health Union, the free InterRail ticket programme, or initiatives that strengthen cooperation between professional tourism organizations and finally bring the sector at large to the attention of Europe”; István Ujhelyi said.

Brussels – 29/06/2022

Orbán signs in Brussels what he protests at home

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Viktor ORBANDo not pay attention to what I say, but what I do”, is a statement attributed to Viktor Orbán, which has undoubtedly taken on a new meaning this week. We are well-aware that Fidesz’s prime minister, as a political flip-flopper, usually says one thing in Brussels and another to his own electorate on public television, but now, in addition to the slippery double-talk, the head of government has been found to be telling a concrete lie. As I have already reported on my social media pages, next week Fidesz-KDNP wants to adopt an anti-European, utterly absurd parliamentary resolution in connection with a series of conferences on the future of the European Union. It is quite obvious that they want to push this through Parliament in order to use it for blackmail during negotiations in Brussels. In fact, the resolution describes the series of international conferences as ineffective and politically motivated, and the Hungarian position includes the dissolution of the European Parliament and the removal of the desire for ‘ever closer unity’ from the EU Treaties. The whole thing is sheer absurdity, and it is no coincidence that even Tibor Navracsics said in a radio interview that he was still considering whether to vote for this resolution as a Member of Parliament.
In contrast, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took a completely different position at this week’s European Council (EUCO) meeting, and even signed the document closing the summit himself, i.e. he agreed with its contents. But the document states, among other things, that the EUCO “takes note of the proposals contained in the report on the outcome of the conference submitted to the three co-presidents” and that citizens will be informed of the follow-up. This latter information has certainly not been given and will clearly not be given: the government is, in fact, lying about the findings of the conference, as the parliamentary resolution demonstrates. As a matter of fact, the report on the outcome of the process, which the Hungarian Prime Minister has apparently quietly accepted and taken note of, summarized the views of European citizens, including Hungarian citizens, and made quite different conclusions from those included in the resolution by the governing parties that they call ‘the Hungarian position.’ In the final report, the European citizens did not call for the dissolution of the European Parliament, but for the strengthening of its powers, for example, by granting it the right of legislative initiative. According to the EUCO’s final document, Orbán took note of this and accepted it as the position of the majority of European citizens. Also included in the conference report is the opening of the revision of the Treaties and the review of Member States’ competences, but in the opposite way to what Fidesz-KDNP at home would like to see in a resolution. The result of the process is precisely that it is in favour of closer cooperation, of granting more European powers, for example, in the area of health, and not of abolishing the desire for closer unity. According to the final document of EUCO, Viktor Orbán has also taken note of this and accepted it as the majority position of European citizens. So the Hungarian governing parties are deliberately trying to put false statements in a parliamentary resolution, and at the European Council meeting, Viktor Orbán did not defend the “Hungarian position” at all, if you like; he did not indicate his opposition to the findings of the final report adopted and noted in connection with the Future of Europe conference, and did not indicate that the Hungarian government, as in so many other matters, has a completely opposite position to that of the majority of Europe. If the Prime Minister had protested then and there, if he had indicated his opposition, it would have been perfectly legitimate, although I would have disagreed with him. However, the fact that the conclusions adopted in the EUCO’s final document are in effect being concealed from the Hungarian public, and that they are trying to force a completely misleading parliamentary resolution with contradictory content through the Hungarian Parliament, is a lie in itself. I very much hope that, like Tibor Navracsics, there will be more people in the Fidesz-KDNP benches who will wonder whether it is acceptable to vote for this lying and damagingly anti-European resolution, and there will even be those who will not only wonder, but will eventually refuse to vote for it in good conscience.

MEP István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
26 June, 2022

EU funds to support redundant Tungsram workers available, but Orbán-government does not claim them

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 “Hungary is not going forward, it is going bankrupt”; said MEP István Ujhelyi in his online press conference on Wednesday. According to the MSZP politician, the government is helpless and insensitive as it watches the situation caused by the crises threaten the livelihood security of families and as the record-high euro exchange rate and inflation push the lowest income earners into a subsistence crisis. Ujhelyi pointed out that the government is also standing idly by as some 1,800 people are set to be made redundant from Tungsram’s Hungarian factories by the end of the year, with news of another 200 people being laid off in Újpest alone. At the press conference, the Social Democrat MEP said that in such cases, the “European Globalisation Adjustment Fund” could be used to provide substantial support for retraining, wage supplements or even to help the redundant workers start their own businesses, but that the government of the Member State concerned would have to apply for this and contribute around 15 per cent of the costs.
Ujhelyi said that the two-day plenary session of the European Parliament, which starts on Wednesday, will decide on two similar requests: the French government has asked for €20 million to help workers made redundant in the AirFrance group redundancies and the Greek government has asked for €2 million from the Globalisation Fund to provide temporary support for more than 200 workers made redundant in an electrical industry plant. The MSZP MEP stressed that in the last twelve years, the Hungarian government has never once called on EU aid from this fund, which amounts to hundreds of millions of euros. “The government is alibi-ing and fooling around with Tungsram and the trade unions, but it is not providing any real help: it is incomprehensible that they are not even asking for this particular EU money”; István Ujhelyi said. The left-wing MEP added that he had consulted with the relevant experts of the European Commission, who confirmed that only the Hungarian government can submit an application for support, which is expected in Brussels, as the Tungsram case fits perfectly into the framework of the fund. Ujhelyi also said that he and MP Imre Komjáthi had previously written to the Ministry of Technology and Industry concerned about the use of the EU fund, but had not yet received any reply. “It seems that the government is more interested in getting orders for the oligarchs around NER (Orbán’s so-called National Cooperation System) and exempting them from extra burdens than in ensuring the health and security of the Hungarian people”; the MSZP politician said.

Brussels/Budapest – 22/06/2022

Fidesz two-thirds about to adopt mendacious and anti-European resolution

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parlThere seems to be no emergency brake on the pro-government bandwagon of lies, or at least there is no one left of the one time pro-European, respectable young democrats to pull it while the illiberal train is running wild. László Kövér and Máté Kocsis of Fidesz, and Zsolt Semjén and István Simicskó of KDNP are the signatories of a newly tabled parliamentary resolution, which formulates the Hungarian position as a result of a series of conferences on the transformation of the European Union. It does this by presenting its own anti-European, purely party-political theses, formulated along the lines of Fidesz power interests that further strain the European community and hinder its functioning, as the unified and well-developed position of the Hungarian nation. This is a blatant lie.
As is known, the European Commission set out as a priority in 2019 that it would gather the views of European citizens in a broad and lengthy public debate on the functioning of the EU and the directions of its planned reform. More than five million people have accessed the dedicated online platforms, nearly 17,000 individual ideas and proposals have been discussed and almost 7,000 events have been held across Europe as part of a comprehensive series of conferences, some of which took place in the plenary Chamber of the European Parliament. So it is a significant amount of work that has been done, with millions of people taking part and expressing their views, and the European Commission has been processing these ever since with a legislative initiative expected in the autumn. According to the Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary resolution, “instead of being an open and democratic dialogue, by excluding the approval of a large part of the public, the conference series has become a servant of the political and ideological ambitions of forces interested in the erosion of the sovereignty of Member States and the increase of the power of the EU bureaucracy”. The Fidesz-KDNP parliamentary resolution also states that at the same time the Hungarian Parliament welcomes the fact that Hungarian citizens participated in the conference series with an activity far above the European average and that Parliament “stands by the opinion of the Hungarian people that the European Union must change because it is unprepared for the challenges of today”. The document also states that the “Hungarian position”; is that the EU treaties should be revised and the objective of “ever closer unity”; should be deleted from it. However, it should be included in it that European integration is based on Christian roots and culture, and that the European Commission should be politically and ideologically neutral. The governing majority also wants to state as part of the Hungarian position that the powers that can be exercised through the EU institutions should be reviewed and, for example, that it should be guaranteed at treaty level that each nation can decide for itself “with whom it wants to live”.
Fidesz-KDNP would include in the EU treaty a ban on further joint EU debt absorption (interestingly, they are now pushing for the call on the Recovery Funds that we would receive as a result of the first joint debt absorption), but they would also curb the rights of the European Parliament, and take the delegation of MEPs out of the hands of Hungarian citizens, so that in future they would not be able to directly elect their representatives, but national parliaments would send them to Brussels. Another radical change, according to the “Hungarian position”;, would be to allow national governments and national parliaments to initiate EU legislative procedures; a power that the European Parliament is also demanding for itself, but which Fidesz, of course, does not support. The proposed resolution that Fidesz-KDNP has now tabled and is seeking to adopt is extremely damaging and dishonest in several respects. On the one hand, the comprehensive series of conferences initiated by the European Commission was successful and meaningful and many Hungarian citizens and NGOs participated in it; but even representatives of the Hungarian Government, State Secretaries, mayors and Fidesz MEPs were present at major events, which means that it is a lie that they had no meaningful influence on the proceedings. Moreover, while the governing parties would enshrine the “Hungarian position”; in a parliamentary resolution, there is, in fact, no sign or evidence that Hungarian citizens agree with it, or even want it.
On the contrary, according to the summary published by the European Commission, which also includes a large number of opinions expressed by Hungarian citizens and NGOs, the majority of European citizens would give the electorate a greater say in the election of the President of the European Commission, for example, or even the European Parliament that they elect. There are indeed a number of points where possible changes to the EU Treaties and powers have been raised, but not in the way that Fidesz is now trying to squeeze into a parliamentary document, but quite the opposite: the majority of European citizens, including Hungarians, want more European influence and influence in, for example, equal access to quality education or in the creation of minimum quality standards for health care systems. There was also a general consensus as a result of the conference series that there is a need to move to qualified majority voting for all EU decisions, as the current system gives too much scope for blackmail to certain Member States, which thus block common European issues; but the same is true for sanctions for breaches of the rule of law, where European citizens, including Hungarians, are also calling for new rules. Fidesz-KDNP is therefore plotting another despicable stunt, only to strengthen the Prime Minister’s blackmailing positions at the forthcoming European Council summit. It is a political crime to adopt a parliamentary resolution containing such lies and clauses that deliberately weaken our European community. It is sad that there is apparently not a single European Hungarian left in Fidesz to protest against this. So let me hereby do it for them.

István Ujhelyi MEP
Brussels/Budapest – 22/06/2022

Social debate needed on four-day workweek!

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281712968_555162532635578_1884145042787631619_nThere is no doubt that the periods of pandemics and social changes of recent years have significantly rewritten our daily lives, especially our working routines and habits. The covid-period has proved the validity of the so-called “home-office”; practise and the effectiveness of more flexible working in certain sectors.
I am particularly pleased that in recent weeks more and more people have been paying attention to the possibility of introducing a four-day working week in Hungary, too, as I have been working on this issue more closely as a European policy-maker since the covid period, and the increasingly intense public interest has finally made it time to implement my old plan: to launch a social debate on the possibility of introducing a four-day working week in Hungary. A four-day working week system, which would provide more free time, a better work-life balance and more effective creative time, would not, of course, be an immediate and positive change for all employees, as in some sectors the programme is unfeasible and its general introduction could have
as of yet unknown effects. It is therefore to be applauded that many countries have already started to test the four-day working week, and in Hungary too there are already small and large companies that are testing the method and gathering experience. In Belgium, a shorter working week has been possible since February (although the number of hours per day is admittedly higher), in England a comprehensive test programme was launched in June, in Scotland there was a government commitment to investigate and support the introduction of a four-day working week, and in Iceland, a trial was carried out before the covid epidemic: what it is like for a worker to work 35 hours a week instead of 40, without losing a penny in pay, or in this case not a single Icelandic krona. The project was a success and the results showed that the workers were less stressed, their health improved, they had more personal time, which had a positive effect on their productivity and that the fewer hours they worked did not affect their productivity at all. A significant number of Icelanders who were able to do so because of their job have already switched to this system.
It cannot, of course, be said without substantive investigation and in-depth social dialogue that the introduction of a four-day working week would have a clearly positive effect in Hungary, but as a social democratic politician, I am of the firm personal opinion that if it is possible to increase workers; recreational time and to better balance work and private life without reducing wages, then we have a duty to address this possibility.
In recent weeks, I have been consulting with several international organizations, researchers and movements on the experiences of the four-day working week and the organization of pilot projects in Hungary. Most recently, we discussed the possibilities with two leaders of the 4DayWeekGlobal movement in the European Parliament, Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart, who were open to building more actively in Hungary. So the time has come to start a meaningful and real social debate on this issue as soon as possible, which I, as a European politician of the left, am committed to organizing and supporting: in the coming weeks I will hold the first programme of this at the joint headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament in Budapest, where, alongside former EU Commissioner László Andor, we will discuss the pros and cons of a four-day working week with sociological and mental health experts, trade union leaders and employer representatives. If Hungary is really going forward, we need to find ways to improve the living conditions and everyday lives of Hungarian people.

István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
19 June, 2022.

Emergency Funds: also to end up squandered?

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Ujhelyi-MSZPIt is increasingly difficult and costly to “protect families”, moreover the government wants to strengthen the defence forces, so it has recently set up a so-called “Overheads Protection Fund” and a “Defence Fund” to finance these tasks. The Prime Minister has announced a tax on so-called market extra profits and expects billions in contributions from banks, insurance companies, large retail chains, energy and trading companies, telecoms and airlines. As a social democrat, I naturally support the principle that the wealthy should take greater responsibility and do more to finance social measures and combat the crisis.
That would all be fine, but responsible and credible decision-making certainly does not stop here. Indeed, it raises serious questions (although we all know the answers already without giving it too much thought) as to why the government is only unilaterally involving targeted sectorial players in this major withdrawal of resources and why sectorial interests that have made considerable fortunes in the past are being spectacularly left out, without being asked to take their share of the joint responsibility. Just think of the casinos, for example, which, unlike retailers, have not even had to hook up their online cash registers to the tax authorities’ system, but despite the crisis still generate profits of more than ten billion a year for their owners, such as the Minister of Defence, Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, and István Garancsi, who also has close ties with the government. And, if that were not enough, they have also received more than two hundred million in state wage subsidies in the past, precisely because of the crisis. In other words, when there is a crisis, the taxpayer bails them out, and when they would have to pay something back, the government forgets to involve them. But the same is true of almost all the oligarchic interests that thrive on the favours and help of the Fidesz government: in crises they mostly just cash in and show no solidarity whatsoever. It is equally important to look at what the government does with the money it collects, and how it does it. It is not enough to raise crisis funds in a fair way by taxing all those who are able to pay; it is also necessary to spend these funds fairly, transparently and in accordance with the real objectives. We, in fact, have very bad experiences in this regard. It is important to recall that two years ago, the Fidesz government set up a so-called Economy Protection Fund in response to the coronavirus epidemic, from which more than four thousand billion forints (!) were disbursed, yet only a quarter of this amount was spent on direct economic protection aid. In other words, more than three thousand billion forints (!) from this fund were spent on things that actually had very little to do with combatting covid, the eradication of the epidemic crisis, helping the poor and workers facing difficulties. It is hard to forget that billions of this budget for economy protection were spent on sports facilities, other billions on a church renovation programme, the reconstruction of the Buda Castle district (which happens to give home to the Prime Minister’s office) and stadium building, or that over a hundred billion forints of it went to “public foundations” full of government officials, and tens of billions to intellectual workshops not so secretly linked to Fidesz that openly serve government policy.
The best thing, however, is that from the Economy Protection Fund recapitalized in connection with the coronavirus, the hunting expo, which was of great importance to Fidesz-KDNP, received several billions of forints and contrary to all the previous propaganda, we know that it brought in only a fraction of the state forints spent on it. This is not crisis management, this is squandering money. Among the government’s crisis management measures, the creation of protection funds can actually be supported, since there is a real need for centralized solidarity revenues and their focused, targeted use. However, Fidesz is still no different in this respect than it was before: it does not dig into its own pockets, only into others’, and the money distributed as aid is mostly not for others: it effectively goes into its own pockets. The lowest point of this governmental practice was reached when certain governmental interests profited billions from the purchase of equipment combatting the deadly covid epidemic. If Fidesz wants to create real physical and financial security in this situation, it must also act with minimal decency and maximum transparency with regard to the newly created funds. And in the event that they want to achieve effective results in crisis management and not just symptomatic treatments, they will consider and incorporate into government decisions the concrete and well-developed proposals of MSZP’s ‘Security of Livelihood Package,’ as that gives a real chance for a crisis-proof everyday life.
After the Hungarian Prime Minister’s landmark 2014 speech in Tusványos, which proclaimed the illiberal state, I vowed that as a European MEP I would send an open letter every week to warn the public of the crimes of the system that has been established. I am ringing the bells of alarm for the 354th time and will continue to do so for as long as it is necessary. Because we must give a chance for revival and for a shared homeland.

dr. István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
5 June, 2022.